The social organisation of the Christmas Island flying-fox (Pteropus melanotus natalis)
Social organisation within and between groups is driven by the conflicts that arise when individuals face different trade-offs concerning reproduction and survival (e.g. Clutton-Brock, 1989; Emlen & Oring, 1977). It is a topic of fundamental behavioural ecological interest because it explains what structures animal societies. Bats are of particular interest for studies of social organisation because they are highly social animals that form some of the largest known mammalian aggregations, and they exhibit a greater diversity in social organisation than any other mammalian order. However, little is known about social organisation of flying-foxes, mainly because their extreme mobility complicates studying individuals in the wild.
The Christmas Island flying-fox (CIFF; Pteropus natalis) is a medium-sized fruit bat confined to Christmas Island. The CIFF has been listed as Critically Endangered under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act 1999 (Threatened Species Scientific Committee, 2014), as it has been experiencing alarming population declines, with Christmas Island National Parks estimating the population at roughly 2000 flying-foxes, down from about 6,000 in the 1980s (Tidemann, 1985b). The CIFF is an important seed disperser and pollinator, and therefore considered a keystone species (Parks Australia, 2014). Its precipitous decline therefore poses an enormous threat to Christmas Island’s unique ecosystem (Beeton et al., 2010; Cox, Elmqvist, Pierson, & Rainey, 1991). Furthermore, with the recent extinction of the Christmas Island pipistrelle, the species is now the only indigenous mammal remaining on the island.
Recently, a lack of understanding of the social organisation was identified as a key knowledge gap preventing sound conservation management of the CIFF. Social organisation is important for the CIFFs conservation because of its effects on the size of the effective breeding population (Ne), patterns of seed/pollen disperser behaviours, and disease dynamics, issues that are particularly relevant in small populations of keystone species on islands. Therefore, by increasing our understanding of the social organisation of the CIFF, the research will contribute to the conservation of this Critically Endangered species.
The aims of this study are two-fold:
- To increase our fundamental understanding of social organisation in terms of underlying social and ecological pressures and individual selective benefits
- To provide management-relevant information to help secure the long-term persistence of the CIFF
Website: https://www.animalecologylab.org/annabel-dorrestein.html (opens in a new window)
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Dr Justin Welbergen, Dr John Martin (Royal Bot Gardens & Domain Trust, Sydney), A/Professor David Phelan (USyd), Dr Karrie Rose (Taranga Zoo), Dr David Westcott (CSIRO)